From Karangahape Road to Te Wānanga on Quay Street, Tessa Harris (Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki) walks around Auckland and sees an increasing amount of her own art and that of fellow Māori artists embedded in the city’s architecture and prominent places.
“It’s great to be able to feel us in spaces that show we belong,” says Tessa. “I see it as a positive self-affirming thing and I’m proud to be able to give expression to our stories. I think it’s great that there is a place and space for Māori to connect in the central city – it’s an opportunity to show ourselves and our stories.”
Tessa’s most prominent works of art tell stories of Tāmaki Makaurau. These include the tukutuku panels behind pāua shell-coloured bus shelters on Karangahape Road, pavers on Lower Queen Street’s public square Te Komititanga, the Te Nukuao shelter structure in Silo Park, and the woven installation Kōrimurimu on the downtown waterfront.
As a weaver and multi-disciplinary artist who works with materials like stone, glass, wood and natural fibres, collaboration is integral to Tessa’s creative work. Looking for collaborators means seeking artists and makers with a connection to a project – maybe through whakapapa, their knowledge base or someone who is genuinely interested. She joined forces with students from Auckland Girls’ Grammar School to work on the Karangahape Road tukutuku panels.
“Sometimes the right person turns up at the right time,” Tessa says. “It’s always a team of people on projects and everyone contributes. It’s all valued.”
Tessa pays tribute to her early kaiako (teachers) Joy Wikitera, Judy Robson-Deane and Kahutoi Te Kanawa and her weaving group Te Rā Ringa Raupā. The group has recreated Te Rā, the only known Māori sail in existence, which will be on display at Auckland Museum from 18 November.
“I love working with natural materials,” Tessa says, “but as much as I like to work with natural fibres and materials, our elements don’t allow for that in some instances, so I’m happy to work in any medium that suits the job. Quite often that’s contemporary. I am sure our tūpuna would be innovative with whatever is available and suitable for the best outcome.”
“I like to tutu or play around and experiment with everything,” she explains. “I’m open to all materials and having skills or understanding in various mediums helps you to create concepts and ideas based on all that knowledge and understanding.”
Stone, for example, weathers well in all elements, is durable and holds mauri (energy). While it’s harder and slower to work with, Tessa describes it as “extremely satisfying”.
Tessa’s work will be incorporated into the new stairway handrail in Myers Park.
“Toi Māori is what makes us unique here in Aotearoa, let’s celebrate it everywhere. Involve Māori in all projects – when I say involve us, I mean truly involve us. Value the knowledge we share and the skills we have, treat us as an expert in our field, as you would any other expert. Together we can make magic!”